My favorite graphic from this week’s class announcements was Arthur Rackham’s illustration of Alice meeting the Caterpillar, from Alice in Wonderland:
The video I watched was “What makes a hero?,” a TED-Ed talk by Matthew Winkler. This is a popular introduction to the concept of the “Hero’s Journey,” a supposedly universal progression of myths and popular stories. It’s a nicely put together video, but I’m skeptical of the framework itself: people are very good at rationalizing, and I think that the framework is so general that it is fairly uninteresting that so many stories can be contorted into its form. Still, I enjoyed the video.
It wasn’t. No matter which way he looked across the flat plains all he saw was brown, dead dirt. Just brown, far as the eye could see.
I’m like an ant on a massive oak table. Now Joseph, that sounds like somethin’ they’d read out of a book by the fire way back when. At least when I can’t fill Mary’s stomach with nothin’ I can fill her head with worthless little bits of philosophohfizin’.
He’d long given up on the fields or selling anything in town — the ground was too dead and barren to even hope. But Joseph had found a patch of ground less abused than the rest and had planted a small garden; it was something, maybe enough to get through the winter what with the hard tack and preserves they had saved. Or at least something to eat on the road when they left.
Humming tunelessly, he thrust the hoe again into the ground, turning up soil that looked almost dark, almost wet, almost like life hadn’t quite given up here yet.
Up and down went the hoe, sinking its teeth into the softer soil. Until… clank.
Startled from the meditative state his repetitive work had brought on, Joseph reached down and saw a corner of dark, burnished metal. Pushing dirt away with his hands, he quickly enough found himself holding a small canister, no more than a foot around, made of heavy, rough lead and weighing more than it had any right to.
That’s right odd.
Usually folks bury things for a reason. Sometimes to forget ’em, sometimes to keep ’em.
Let’s hope thisun was buried for keepin’.
Joseph pried against the seal, trying to get a purchase when, with a sudden crack, the lid gave way. Jumping back, he watched as the canister hit the ground. It was silent all around and for a moment it looked as if the thing was empty.
Then dark blue smoke began to curl, then pour, from the opening of the canister. Joseph just stood, dumbstruck.
The smoke, at first seeming to billow outwards without form, cleared as quickly as it came and left a translucent human form, no less than some eight feet tall, looming over the staring man.
“Four hundred years!” cried the spirit.
And it talks too… Lord in Heaven, judge me kindly.
“Four. Hundred. Years.” it spat, ephemeral flames licking up its legs with each word. “Trapped all that time.”
“Well, you’re out now,” Joseph said.
Idiot. Damned fool, you always had too quick a tongue.
“Anything else you wish to say before I kill you, blathering fool?”
Its eyes bored into him.
“Hold on now, hold on — kill me? Me? What’d I ever do to you? I just let you out!”
“I will grant you the choice of the manner of your death. Speak!”
Fumbling, delaying, and still unbelieving, Joseph did, indeed, speak:
“Now, uh, mister — sir — uh, well, I don’t quite understand, you see? Who — what — who are you? And, uh, how’d you find yourself in that ugly old milkcan in the first place? Now I know…”
“He put me there. Oh, how I would rend him limb from limb. King of my kind, tyrant of us all — I had him! But, betrayed in the final moment, I was taken, punished, and confined to that awful vessel. For a hundred years I raged. For another hundred I swore any wish and any boon to him that would rescue me. For another hundred I swore myself in eternal servitude to my eventual rescuer. For another hundred, rotting in my prison, I swore death on him that had waited so long to find me. You.“
“What, me? I didn’t wait, I don’t even —”
Now hold on.
“How’d you even fit in that there thing anyway?”
“I don’t believe that… what a load of hogwash. Ain’t no way all of you fit in that tiny little thing there for four hundred years.”
Joseph let out a forced laugh.
Indignant, the spirit spiraled down into the vessel, crying out:
“Fool! My forms are endless, there is no limit to my abilities.”
The last of these words were muffled as Joseph slapped the cover of the canister back on and quickly closed the latches. A muffled screaming could be heard from inside, slowly growing fainter…
Dusk came and found Joseph sitting on the ground, hoe in hand, slowly regaining his calm. Eventually a small smile crept over his face.
You clever bastard, you. Just wait till Mary hears this!
Author’s Note: I thought I’d transpose the story of the poor fisherman and the genie out into the dustbowl. I don’t quite know how or why I thought of that, but here it is. I don’t know if there’s anything in Native American folklore analogous to a genie, which is why I just called it a spirit and left it at that.
(And yes, the spelling of “philosophohfizin‘” is intentional, sound it out.)
Story Source: “The Story of the Fisherman” from Arabian Nights, sourced from the course UnTextbook.
Obviously this whole section of reading is one story, but I chose to focus my notes on the magicians plot for revenge (part #4).
It eventually comes to the attention of the magician, back in Africa, that Aladdin has married the princess and is living in great opulence with the sultan’s favor.
Knowing Aladdin, he correctly presumes that this is the result of sorcery, which can only mean that Aladdin has the lamp.
The magician leaves Africa immediately and travels day and night until he reaches the city where Aladdin is, determined to effect his revenge and retrieve his lamp.
In the city, he hears of Aladdin’s palace and is only further enraged, but he quickly thinks of a scheme: finding that Aladdin is away hunting, he disguises himself as a foolish old man and goes through the city offering to trade new lamps for old ones.
The citizenry follow him and make a to-do over the foolish old man who would give up new lamps for rusting old ones; the princess hears the commotion from the palace as he passes and asks what is happening.
Hearing of the old man, the princess is as entertained as the townsfolk, and, seeing the old, burnished lamp of the genie on the mantle, she decides to humor the old man and goes out to exchange it with him.
The magician, now having the genie in his possession, has it use its powers to transport him, the palace, and the princess back to Africa.
The sultan awakens the next morning to find both gone and believes the vizir when he accuses Aladdin of enchantment. The sultan sends for Aladdin and has him brought in chains, where Aladdin begs for forty days in which to find the princess, agreeing to return at the end of that period to face death at the sultan’s hands.
I chose “The Story of the Fisherman” for today’s reading notes.
In this segment, Scheherazade has just convinced the sultan to allow her to tell another story, this one more marvelous even than those before. Gaining his consent, she enters into the story of the fisherman.
A poor fisherman is trying to haul up a catch to feed his family, but time after time his nets come back with nothing but trash and refuse.
Finally, after pulling in his nets for the fourth time, the fisherman finds an ornate yellowed pot, heavy and sealed with lead.
Relieved to have found something for his day’s labor, the fisherman opens the pot to see what he has found and if he can sell it for coin with which he can buy wheat.
At first the pot seems to be empty, but then columns of smoke begin to billow out from it, eventually resolving themselves into the shape of a great and powerful genie.
The genie swears to the fisherman that he is bound to kill him. The fisherman begs for his life but the genie is resolved, finally, the fisherman asks to know before he dies how the genie got trapped in the first place.
The genie says that he rebelled against the king of the genies and was trapped in the pot as punishment; after waiting many centuries to be freed, he became frustrated and swore to kill whoever eventually freed him.
The fisherman again begs for his life, but, upon being again rejected, thinks of a plan: he asks the genie whether he really was in the small pot and, incredulous, asks that the genie demonstrate how an enormous being of his kind could possibly fit in such a small space.
The genie reenters the pot to demonstrate and the fisherman quickly replaces the lid, trapping the genie and saving his own life.